Legitimization and Development of Jodo Shu

Systemization and Official Recognition (14th cent.-16th cent.)

The Edo Era (1600-1868)

The Modern Era (1868-present)

Systemization and Official Recognition

It was not until Shogei (1341-1420) and Shoso (1366-1440), the 7th and 8th Patriarchs of Jodo Shu respectively, that Jodo Shu was established as an independent institution. Bencho and Ryochu, the Second and Third Patriarchs, systematized the Chinzei school of Jodo Shu which became the mainstream school. However, since they could not officially ordain monks, Jodo Shu remained unrecognized by other schools. Additionally, since Jodo Shu monks often changed schools within the sect during this period, the apparent lack of rules governing the sect hurt its desire to be officially recognized. Shogei very much wanted to create governing rules for the sect, and upon his request, Shoso developed such an institutionalized system which led towards Jodo Shu's recognition as an official sect.

Shogei accomplished a number of things in this drive towards the legitimation of Jodo Shu:

1) He preached that Jodo Shu teachings were superior to others since they were a sudden teaching towards enlightenment, writing the Nizojugi on this theme.

2) He wrote the Jodoshin shu Fuhoden as a record to legitimize Jodo Shu's dharma transmission. This recorded Pure Land transmission from its beginning in India to China and finally to Honen in Japan.

3) He established an institute for Pure Land studies in which he systematically taught the Pure Land doctrine and cultivated numerous monks.

4) He devised the gojusoden or "five fold transmission" which was a systematic presentation of Jodo Shu teachings for monks who had attained a certain level.

5) He instituted the Tendai style of transmission of the Mahayana precepts.

6) He established rules for the dharma transmission from teacher to disciple for the Shirahata school.

7) He went about correcting errors in understanding about Pure Land teaching, tightening rules on movement by monks within the sect and enforcing greater discipline and obedience by younger monks.

Through the success of these efforts, Shogei with the aid of Shoso was able to institutionalize and legitimize Jodo Shu, gaining its official recognition by the government.

The Edo Era

During the 300 years of the Edo era (1600-1868), Jodo Shu faced many challenges in its efforts to develop. There are four main issues which are most important during this era.

The first concerns the development of Jodo Shu into a formalized organization. The Edo era marked the consolidation of Japan under one central authority. In consolidating their rule, the Edo Shogunate also moved to reign in and to control all religious groups, especially the various Buddhist sects. In 1615, upon directions from the Shogunate, Sonsho of Chion-in in Kyoto and Zonno of Zojoji in Tokyo established a thirty-five point code of law through which Jodo Shu would be governed. Of these thirty-five regulations, Chion-in received designation as an imperial temple (miyamonzeki) and became the head temple of Jodo Shu. Another regulation codified Jodo Shu teaching and put strict qualifications on becoming a priest and receiving higher ordination. A third key regulation was the establishment of eighteen main temples as branches of a system of institutes for higher learning in jodo studies. In this way, no other temples were allowed to participate in such higher instruction.

The second point concerns Jodo Shu's relationship with the Edo Shogunate. During the Edo era, the Tokugawa Shogunate began to patronize both Chion-in and Zojoji. In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Zonno of Zojoji entered into a special relationship in which Zojoji became the family temple of the Tokugawa. This close relationship resulted in Zojoji becoming the administrative center of Jodo Shu gaining authority over the whole sect. In 1603, Sonsho of Chion-in also negotiated a special relationship with Tokugawa Ieyasu gaining official family patronage as well. These events firmly established Chion-in as the highest ceremonial temple of Jodo Shu, but Zojoji retained greatest power. Through the efforts of these two priests, Zonno and Sonsho, Jodo Shu rapidly gained great prosperity during the Edo era.

Thirdly, through the codification of regulations in Jodo Shu and the establishment of the eighteen branch institutes, Jodo Shu studies became popular during the Edo era. The contents of this study can be broken down into five basic areas:

1) Pure Land doctrine and the transmission of the Dharma and the Mahayana precepts led by prominent scholars Ryoju and Kantetsu. (The official Mahayana precepts adopted by Shogei for Jodo Shu at the end of the 15th century were the same as Tendai's precepts. Jodo Shu created their own precepts in the Edo period based on the exclusive nembutsu as their only precept.)

2) the history of Jodo Shu, for example biographies of famous monks and the history of temples, led by Gizan and Hoshu

3) general Buddhist studies such as the Kegon, Hosso and Kusha doctrines, led by Monsho and Tanne

4) critical studies of jodo texts led by Bunnyu and Tetsujo

5) the original Jodo Shu precepts led by Reitan and Tokumon.

Throughout the Edo period, Jodo priests were required to study these five areas. Unfortunately, the program of study lacked any creative or critical aspect often simply consisting of rote memorization of famous scholars' ideas. Additionally, this dogmatic study led to arrogance and intolerance towards other sects.

Finally, Jodo Shu's great prosperity during this time led to increasing corruption within the sect. One of the most significant acts of the Edo Shogunate was to install the family temple registration system (dankaseido) where all citizens had to be registered with their families at a Buddhist temple. This system was a great boost in general to all officially recognized sects. Jodo Shu was especially strengthened economically, and the life of the priests became quite stable and comfortable. This is turn led to corruption of individual priests and a general slackening in discipline. The important point in this period, however, was the emergence of two renewal movements within Jodo Shu. These movements sought to strike back against this corruption and to return to the original ways of the sect under Honen.

The first of these movements was named Shasei-ha and had its roots in the preceding Azuchi-Momoyama period under the monk Shonen. The monks Tanzei and Tokuhon followed in his footsteps to create a movement which renounced worldly pleasures and emphasized continuous recitation of the nembutsu. The monks of Shasei-ha abandoned their temples and lived the itinerant life of wanderers eschewing fame and power to preach the exclusive nembutsu throughout Japan. Their legacies can be found in the numerous stone stupas inscribed with the nembutsu which still exist all over Japan. The second renewal movement was named Koritsu-ha for its desire to re-establish the centrality of the precepts. Led by the monks Reitan, Fujaku and Kyoju, they emphasized strict maintenance of the precepts in the face of increasing priestly corruption. These two movements stand out for their deep awareness and conscience of the corruption within the sect at this time.

The Modern Era

During the Meiji era (1868-1912), a government edict officially mandated the separation of Buddhism and Shinto as a part of a program of instituting a Shinto-based state ideology. These Separation Edicts triggered a brief but violent anti-Buddhist movement (haibutsu kishaku) in which many Buddhist temples were destroyed. There were also Buddhist movements for internal reform. Within Jodo Shu two new spiritual movements arose. One was the Komyokai movement founded by Yamazaki Bennei (1859-1920) which stressed that nembutsu practice is enveloped in and protected by the spiritual light (komyo) of Amida Buddha. This movement encouraged special services for chanting the nembutsu in Jodo Shu temples and the homes of believers throughout the country. The other was the Kyoseikai movement, which centered on applying Honen's teaching to daily human life for the betterment of society. This movement was founded by Shiio Benkyo (1876-1971), the seventy-eighth abbot of the Zojoji. Benkyo insisted that one should realize the salvation of Amida in social and daily life. He based his teaching on a fundamental doctrine of Buddhism, pratityasamutpada, the dependent co-origination and interrelatedness of all things, which he interpreted in terms of the matrix of human society. This movement inspired many priests to establish day-care centers and kindergartens within or near their temple grounds or to engage in other forms of social service. Benkyo himself put into practice his teaching concerning the betterment of life and society by serving as a Diet member. These two movements have infused new life and spirit into Honen's teaching in contemporary times.